By Joe Fellegy (from Outdoor News, April 21, 2010)

Fishing records are never safe or certain. But Minnesota anglers last week likely set a new record for eyeballing gut piles—giant heaps of mainly filleted walleye carcasses illegally dumped, presumably by tribal netters, on properties east of Mille Lacs. Dumped whole pike—hardly a new phenomenon—added to the story.

From internet discussion forums and Twin Cities dailies to WCCO-TV and Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), gut-pile stories spurred gawking and talking. The chatter was intelligent, dumb, and in-between. There were justifiably critical comments about the net fishery’s unjustifiable existence. Some remarks were disrespectful towards Indian people. Thank the Indian Industry which passes itself off as “the Indians.”

(Really, being for or against the massive spawning-time gill net fishery, or challenging related pricy management of tribal and state fisheries on Mille Lacs, isn’t about being for or against “the Indians.”)

A big plus: The gut-pile fuss spotlighted the enormous walleye-catching potential of gill nets set along shoreline shoals and shallow reefs where spawners concentrate. The negative reactions by everyday folks remind us that spawning time walleye fishing with miles of gill nets violates the cultural sensitivities of most people. The Minnesota season for walleyes and northern pike is closed during this sacred leave-’em-alone period. Just last week our DNR announced more closures to angling and spearing—six streams in Beltrami and Clearwater counties—to “protect concentrations of spawning walleye and their eggs.”

True, streams aren’t lakes. But those familiar with in-lake spawning on our major natural walleye lakes know all about nighttime “concentrations” and their vulnerability to gill nets. A friend recently chatted with an enforcement officer who visited two public accesses on Mille Lacs’ east shore. On just one evening, along that one stretch, on one side of the lake, about 200 nets—almost 4 miles of gill net—fished for concentrated walleyes. Naturally, this annual gill-net fishery for spawning walleyes offends a lot of people. Should it even exist?

A Shelby-Hudson-‘CCO apology?

Amazingly, WCCO-4 News used the gut piles of gill-netted fish to revive its sordid tradition of bashing citizen-sportsmen who admirably engage in politics elated to Mille Lacs harvests and management. Don Shelby’s lead-in: “Just when it seemed like the uproar over American Indian netting and spearing had died down, a new discovery is fuelling the furor.” Shelby might be a veteran defender of the public’s right to know, government accountability, and of free and open politics. But when the issues and governments are tribal, his standards shift towards non-reporting, anti-discussion, and ruthless labeling.

Reporter Bill Hudson apparently took Shelby’s cue: “Back when tribal netting and spearing was first being challenged by the state, Lake Mille Lacs boat landings were alive with protesters. It took a 1999 Supreme Court ruling affirming native American treaty rights to quiet the controversy.” (So citizens should be quiet and avoid issues discussions and politics?)

And what dishonesty! The only boat landings “alive with protesters” during Minnesota’s “treaty rights” politics and legal malfunctions were Wisconsin boat landings—via old Wisconsin footage played and replayed by WCCO-TV and other stations when reporting on Miile Lacs. They’d drag out the most-obnoxious scenes from Wisconsin as a backdrop for Minnesota stories. If DNR Enforcement met in Little Falls, or if some next step in Minnesota’s legal process came along, Twin Cities TV news teams ran old film from Wisconsin—anything to discredit Minnesota anglers, especially those who honorably studied treaty-rights issues and spoke their minds in the 1990s.

The gut piles reminded folks of the perennial spawning-time gill-net harvests. But too many gut reports featured negative and charged words: anger, tension, furor, resentment, controversy, threatens, protesters, distaste, and disgust. There were verbs like igniting (tensions), fuelling (furor), rekindling (emotions), and sparking (tension). In other words, anglers are nutcakes. Meanwhile, positive words attached to tribal netting: culture, tradition, elders, and rights.

Over the years, WCCO and other media have generally avoided reporting and commentary regarding the taxpayer-subsidized tribal management bureaucracy, including the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC). ‘CCO cautioned viewers that “revelations such as this” (the gut piles) might “rekindle the ill will” of anglers. I’d argue that GLIFWC should be legally slapped because tons of Mille Lacs pike have been chucked, ditched, and dumped on its watch. And GLIFWC spends thousands of “resource management” bucks on Indian Industry politics. At sport shows, fairs, schools, and even human rights conferences, they distribute literature that smears citizen groups who touch tribal topics.

The PERM factor

Credit Proper Economic Resource Management (PERM), a longtime target of GLIFWC handouts, for keeping the Mille Lacs peace during the 1990s. The fundraising arm for the Landowers in the 1837 treaty case, PERM leadership repeatedly told crowds to focus on legal matters and on resource management—not protests against “the Indians.” I attended 1990s PERM-related events. (There’s an upcoming Rice Sportsman’s Club April 23 fundraiser at Foley.) I watched average Joes and Marys intently listen to attorneys, politicos, and legislators. Admirable, I thought.

So gut piles drew media attention. Some citizens focused on the bigger issues. But officialdom sleeps. Most editors and opinion writers offer no opinions. Funding wonks and conservationists look the other way. Once again, reporters mistakenly report that everything is “affirmed.” Apathy and ignorance prosper.

See also…
Mille Lacs gill-netting: biggest scam on state’s outdoor scene
Key 1855 Treaty fact dodged